WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
More ...

Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
More ...

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Madagascar

Madagascar - US Consular Information Sheet
November 06, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Madagascar is a developing island nation off the east coast of Africa.
The primary languages are French and Malagasy.
French is less spoken outside
of major cities.
Facilities for tourism are available, but vary in quality.
Travelers seeking high-end accommodations should make reservations in advance.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Madagascar for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Visas are available at all airports servicing international flights, but travelers who opt to obtain a visa at an airport should expect delays upon arrival.
Visas obtained at the airport cannot be extended.
Most international flights arrive in Antananarivo, but there are some limited international flights to/from the nearby islands of Comoros, Mayotte and Reunion from airports in Mahajanga, Toamasina (Tamatave), Nosy Be, Tolagnaro (Ft. Dauphin) and Antsiranana (Diego Suarez).
There are also direct flights between Italy and Nosy Be.
Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required for all travelers who have been in an infected zone within 6 months of their arrival in Madagascar.

Travelers may obtain the latest information and details on entry requirements from the Embassy of the Republic of Madagascar, 2374 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 265-5525/6; or the Malagasy Consulate in New York City, (212) 986-9491.
Honorary consuls of Madagascar are located in Philadelphia, and San Diego.
Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Malagasy embassy or consulate.
Visit the Embassy of Madagascar’s web site at http://www.embassy.org/madagascar for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There are random police vehicle checkpoints throughout Madagascar, so all visitors should carry photo identification (i.e., U.S. passport) in the event of police questioning.
These check points are routine in nature, and should not result in vehicle and/or person searches as long as valid identification is shown.
Political demonstrations occur from time to time.
There have been incidents of violence during demonstrations, but these have not been directed against Americans.
Travelers should maintain security awareness at all times and should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations.
Certain large gatherings such as concerts or scenes of accidents also may pose a threat to foreigners.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The major concerns for visitors to Antananarivo are crimes of opportunity such as pick pocketing, purse snatching and residential and vehicular theft.
Although these incidents are generally non-violent, incidents involving violence by assailants do occur and are on the rise, particularly when the victim resists, and especially when multiple persons confront the victim.
The Embassy has received reports of physical attacks against foreigners, including Americans, particularly in coastal tourist areas.
A number of these attacks resulted in serious injuries and in some cases, fatalities.
Criminal elements in Antananarivo and throughout Madagascar are becoming bolder when selecting their victims, and are also committing more crimes in areas that are considered to be “safe” – those that are generally well lit and well traveled by pedestrians and vehicles.

To reduce the risk of being victimized, travel in groups and avoid wearing expensive jewelry or carrying high cost electronic items (iPods, digital cameras, or high end cell phones) with you in public. Valuable items should never be left in an unattended vehicle or at a hotel (unless locked in the hotel safe). Walking at night, whether alone or in a group is not considered safe in urban areas, including in the vicinity of Western-standard hotels, restaurants and night clubs. Visitors are strongly discouraged from traveling outside of Antananarivo after dark due to banditry, lack of lighting, and poor road conditions. In the last six months there have been several incidents involving nighttime criminal activity that targeted vehicles outside of town.
These events have involved villages designing a “trap” of sand, a tree log or some other substance or condition that makes the only viable road impassible.
Local villagers then “assist” the stranded vehicle and expect monetary compensation. Others have involved armed criminals who stage a “breakdown” that blocks the roadway, forcing the victimized driver to slow down, and hence become more vulnerable.

Criminal gangs comprised of felons, ex-military and police from the former regime are known to commit home invasions and kidnappings, sometimes targeting foreigners.
Organized gangs of bandits are known to patrol areas where foreigners, who are perceived to be wealthy, tend to congregate.
Crimes such as burglary and robbery do occur in areas outside the capital and the threat of confrontational and violent crime has increased in rural and isolated areas throughout the last year.
Specifically, Amboasary, a town in the southeast, has experienced a surge in armed robberies targeting not-governmental organizations (NGOs).
However, Americans visiting Madagascar should not expect to experience any hostility or aggression solely because of their citizenship.

In major cities, the National Police is charged with maintaining peace and security. Outside of major cities, the Gendarmerie is primarily responsible for these duties. Due to lack of resources available to both law enforcement agencies, police response to victims of a crime is often limited, slow and ineffective.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds can be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
During an emergency, visitors to Antananarivo can contact local police at telephone numbers 117 and 22-357-09/10 or 22-227-35. See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Standards of healthcare throughout Madagascar are well below U.S. standards.
However, there are foreign physicians in Antananarivo representing a broad range of specialties, but their training is variable and often not to U.S. standards.
The hospitals in Antananarivo vary greatly in standards of care.
Medical care outside of Antananarivo is generally well below the care available in the capital city.
Caution and good judgment should be exercised when seeking hospital and medical services.
The Embassy maintains a list of hospitals and specialists.
A Seventh Day Adventist dental clinic offers emergency procedures and x-ray facilities.
Some medications, generally of French origin, are available in Antananarivo.
If you need to refill a prescription from home, it is important to carry a prescription from your doctor listing the medicine's generic name.
There is limited availability of both prescription and over the counter medications, and outside of Antananarivo, medications may not be available.
Travelers should have a supply of any needed medication sufficient for the entire length of a visit before arriving in Madagascar.
Americans who will be carrying medications with them to Madagascar may wish to contact the Malagasy Embassy in Washington, D.C. regarding any restrictions on imports.

Ambulance services are available in Antananarivo with Polyclinique Ilafy at 22-425-66/69 or 033 11 458 48 / 032 07 409 38; Espace Medical at 22-625-66, 22-219-72, or 032-02-088-16 (cellular); and CDU (Centre de Diagnostic Medical d’Urgences) at 22 329 56 or 032 07 822 28 or 033 11 822 28.
However, due to traffic jams, response times are often dangerously slow.

Malaria is prevalent, particularly in the coastal regions.
Using preventive measures and malaria prophylaxis is strongly recommended.
Rabies is endemic and there are many street dogs.
It is recommended travelers have the pre-exposure vaccination series prior to arrival in Madagascar.
If bitten by an animal, the effected area should immediately be washed with soap and running water for ten minutes.
Seek medical care immediately.
Plague is also endemic to Madagascar.
While the reported HIV prevalence rate is low, particularly by African standards, Madagascar suffers from a very high reported incidence of other sexually transmitted diseases.

The East African Indian Ocean islands have seen a rise in the cases of Chikungunya.
As with Malaria, Chikungunya and Dengue are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Every effort should be made to use repellants, proper clothing and barriers that discourage/prevent mosquito bites.
The CDC web site contains further information on chikungunya at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/chikungunya/ and dengue at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/dengue/.
Travelers should drink bottled water or carbonated beverages.
Local water is not generally potable.
Water purification tablets may be used as necessary.
Bottled water is readily available in Antananarivo but is less so outside the city.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Madagascar is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Madagascar, one drives on the right side of the road, generally yielding the right of way to vehicles coming in from the left.
Some major intersections and traffic circles have police directing traffic.
If a policeman has his back to you at an intersection, you are required to stop.
Laws make seatbelt use mandatory and prohibit cell phone use while driving, even with a hands-free attachment.
Child safety seats and motorcycle helmets are not required in Madagascar.
If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, your car will be impounded for a few days and you will have to pay a fine.
If you are involved in an accident involving injuries and/or deaths, there is a mandatory court case.
The losing party of the court case must then pay all costs.

Except for Antananarivo’s main streets and a few well-maintained routes to outlying cities, many roads are in various states of disrepair.
Some may be impassable during the rainy season.
Night travel by private or public transportation outside Antananarivo is strongly discouraged due to poor lighting and road conditions.
Roads tend to be narrow and winding with many one-lane bridges and blind curves.
Most vehicles tend to drive in the center of the road unless another vehicle is present.
It is common to find livestock or human-drawn carts in the middle of the road, even at night.
Local practice is to blow the horn before going around a curve, to let others know of one's presence.
Few pedestrian crosswalks or working traffic signals exist.

Travel within Antananarivo can be difficult with poor road signage, streets congested with pedestrians, bicycles, animal carts, and vehicular traffic, and an abundance of one-way streets.
Taxis are plentiful and are generally reasonably priced.
Bargain for the fare prior to getting into a vehicle.
Most accidents are pedestrian-related, due to narrow roads and lack of sidewalks on many streets.
When traveling between cities, travelers must have clear directions as there are rarely signs indicating where one must turn to reach a destination.
Conditions of rural roads can degrade significantly and with little notice during the rainy season.

Rental cars generally come with a driver who is responsible for maintaining the vehicle and sometimes acts as a tour guide.
Public transportation is unreliable and vehicles are poorly maintained.
Rail services are extremely limited and unreliable.
The Ministry of Public Works, telephone (20) 22-318-02, is Madagascar's authority responsible for road safety.
During an emergency, visitors to Antananarivo can contact local police by dialing 117, 22-227-35, 22-357-09/10.
American citizens can also call the U.S. Embassy at 22-212-57/58/59 if assistance is needed in communicating with law enforcement officials.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Madagascar, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Madagascar’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Domestic and international air services operate regularly but are subject to delays and occasional breakdowns.
Air Madagascar often changes in-country flight schedules based on demand; flights that are not full may be cancelled with little or no prior warning to passengers.
Overbooking is also common.
Reconfirmation of tickets prior to flight day is recommended, especially when flying from provincial airports.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Madagascar in Washington or one of Madagascar's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Taking photographs of airports or military installations is prohibited.

Madagascar is renowned for its natural resources.
These include a wide variety of gemstones.
The Government of Madagascar recently imposed restrictions on the export of precious gems; before purchasing or transporting any gemstones it is advisable to seek clarification of the applicable laws.

Madagascar is primarily a cash-driven economy.
Although some high-end establishments catering to tourists accept credit cards, normally only Visa-logo cards, most shops and restaurants are cash only.
Although the government changed the local currency from the Malagasy Franc (FMG) to the Ariary several years ago, many Malagasy still think in terms of FMG.
When talking about prices, it is important to quantify whether the price is in Ariary or FMG. (1 Ariary = 5 FMG).
A few ATMs are available in large cities.
Dollars are not widely accepted. Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Malagasy laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Malagasy are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States as well as in Madagascar.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Madagascar are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Madagascar.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 14-16 Rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo.
The mailing address is B.P. 620, Antsahavola, Antananarivo, Madagascar; telephone [261] (20) 22-212-57; fax [261] (20) 22-345-39.
The Embassy’s web site is located at http://www.antananarivo.usembassy.gov/
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 2, 2008, to update the section on Crime.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Sun, 17 May 2020 13:31:10 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 17, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar on Sunday reported the first death of a patient suffering from novel coronavirus nearly two months after it was first detected in the country, official statistics showed.   The Indian ocean island which has reported 304 cases has hit the headlines over a home-grown herbal concoction that President Andry Rajoelina claims can cure people infected with the virus.

Several African countries have ordered or expressed interest in the purported remedy, which is known as Covid-Organics.   The tonic drink is derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment -- and other indigenous herbs.   But the World Health Organization has warned against "adopting a product that has not been taken through tests to see its efficacy".
Date: Thu, 7 May 2020 16:35:30 +0200 (METDST)

Johannesburg, May 7, 2020 (AFP) - The World Health Organization on Thursday advised governments to clinically test a herbal drink touted by Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina as a remedy against coronavirus.    The Covid-Organics infusion is derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven anti-malarial properties -- and other indigenous herbs.   Rajoelina hopes to distribute the infusion across West Africa and beyond, claiming it cures COVID-19 patients within 10 days.   Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Niger have already received consignments of the potion. Others such as Tanzania have expressed interest.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly warned that there are no published scientific studies of the herbal tea and that its effects have not been tested.   "We would caution and advise countries against adopting a product that has not been taken through tests to see its efficacy," WHO Africa Director   Matshidiso Moeti said in a press briefing on Thursday, calling on Madagascar to take the drink "through a clinical trial".

Moeti said that in 2000, African governments had committed to taking "traditional therapies" through the same clinical trials as other medication.   "I can understand the need, the drive to find something that can help," Moeti said. "But we would very much like to encourage this scientific process in which the governments themselves made a commitment."

South Africa's Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday said Madagascar had reached out for "help" with scientific research.   "Our scientists would be able to assist with this research," Mkhize tweeted, adding that South Africa would only "get involved in a scientific analysis of the herb".   The country has the highest number of coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, with 7,808 infections and 153 fatalities recorded to date.

Neighbouring eSwatini -- a tiny landlocked nation wedged between South Africa and Mozambique -- said it would not consider Rajoelina's tonic for the time being.   "It is important as a country to first ascertain where such herbal products have been tested," she said Health Minister Lizzie Nkosi on Thursday.    "We have to do adequate proper research and be sure that the product works."   To date eSwatini has reported 123 cases of coronavirus, including two deaths.

Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has debunked claims that it had ordered a package of Covid-Organics from a "third country".   "We are aware that several claims of a COVID-19 cure have been made in different parts of the world," ECOWAS said in a statement on Wednesday.   "But we can only support and endorse products that have been shown to be effective through scientific study."
Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2020 18:21:23 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, April 27, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar police forced citizens caught outside without a coronavirus face mask to sweep pavements on Monday, law enforcement officials said.   President Andry Rajoelina has made it compulsory to wear face coverings outdoors in the capital Antananarivo, as well as in the cities of Fianarantsoa and Toamasina, to curb the spread of coronavirus.   The new rule, which came into force on Monday, was announced on April 20 alongside the gradual lifting of lockdown measures in the three main cities.

Authorities warned that citizens leaving the house without face masks would face community service.   "Seventy percent of people on the street respected the rule... because they are scared of having to sweep pavements," the head of anti-coronavirus operations, general Elak Olivier Andriakaja, said on state television.      "Measures were taken before the sanctions fell into place to raise awareness and distribute mouth covers," Andriakaja added.   "I think that's enough and that sanctions must now be applied."

Around 500 people in Antananarivo and Fianarantsoa were penalised on Monday, said police deputy head Christian Rakotobe.     Antananarivo commissioner Hector Razafindrazaka said 25 people were sentenced on the spot and forced to sweep the capital's dusty streets.   Images of the embarrassed-looking offenders were widely circulated on social media.   To date the Indian Ocean island-nation has detected 128 cases of coronavirus. No fatalities have been recorded so far and 75 patients have recovered.
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 16:37:43 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, April 23, 2020 (AFP) - Unarmed Madagascar soldiers went door-to-door in the capital Antananarivo, doling out sachets of a local herbal tea touted by President Andry Rajoelina as a powerful remedy against the novel coronavirus.

Baptised Covid-Organics, the tonic is derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven efficacy in treating malaria -- as well as other indigenous herbs.   It has been developed by the Madagascar Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) but has not been tested internationally.    "This herbal tea gives results in seven days," Rajoelina announced at its official launch on Tuesday.   "We can change the history of the entire world," he said, after downing a dose. "Two people have now been cured by this treatment."

Mainstream scientists have warned of the potential risk from untested herbal brews.   There is currently no known cure for coronavirus, which has infected at least 121 people in Madagascar and more than 2.6 million worldwide.   Yet military officials on the Indian Ocean island nation say the infusion would be better than nothing.   "It will strengthen immunity," said military doctor Colonel Willy Ratovondrainy on state television, as troops launched a mass distribution campaign.

In pairs, soldiers followed people through Antananarivo's narrow alleyways into their homes.   "Good morning, we are here to distribute the Covid-Organics tea," one of them said.   Jean-Louis Rakotonandrasana gratefully accepted the free packet of herbs.   "We are eager to try this infusion since we saw president Rajoelina drink it on television," the 58-year-old said.   Most of Madagascar's 26 million inhabitants live in grinding poverty with limited access to healthcare and regularly take herbal teas for a variety of common ailments.

- 'I think it's great' -
"I think it's great," said Dominique Rabefarihy, clutching a sachet of Covid-Organics in the poor Ankazomanga neighbourhood.   "It reassures me that soldiers are watching out for my family's health and security," the housewife said.

Madagascar deployed the army last month to help enforce a lockdown in its three main cities to curb the spread of COVID-19.   Soldiers who set up road blocks and patrolled streets are now making sure everyone receives a sachet of the infusion and instructions for use.   "One infusion goes into four litres of water," said Rabefarihy, repeating the instructions. "Two cups per day for adults, one cup for children, nothing for pregnant women."

Madagascar's coronavirus cases remain relatively low and there have been no recorded deaths so far.   But the country's fragile healthcare system would easily be swamped by a surge in cases and authorities are banking on prevention.   Their aim is to raise awareness about the virus and strengthen people's immune systems.   "We highly recommend taking this plant-based infusion," said presidential cabinet head Lova Ranoramoro.

- 'Ready-to-drink' -
Covid-Organics is set to be distributed across the island, with a particular focus on the worst-affected cities of Antananarivo, Fianarantsoa and Toamasina.   Fixed collection points have also been set up in the capital.   Ignoring social distancing cues, a crowd gathered around a kiosk, lining up for the so-called "miracle drink", being decanted into recycled water and soda plastic bottles.

"Here a ready-to-drink liquid version is available for everyone," said municipal representative Rufin Rafanomezantsoa.   "As long as the WHO (World Health Organization) cannot provide any medicine to cure this disease, I trust President Andry Rajoelina's proposed remedy," said Jean Paul Rakotozafy, 72, as he queued up.

The WHO has cautioned against untested home therapies.   "While some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19,  there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease," it said in an emailed statement to AFP.   It added that there are "several ongoing clinical trials" of both western and traditional medicines.

The homespun "remedy" was launched as confinement measures were progressively lifted. The president said the lockdown was eased because a "solution against coronavirus" had been found.   Public transport resumed in Antananarivo on Monday and schools re-opened on Wednesday.   Some children were given a cup of Covid-Organics in class.     "Of course each parent is free not to allow their child to take it," said the cabinet chief Ranoramoro.   "For now, no one has objected."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 11:29:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Lisa GOLDEN

Nicosia, June 6, 2020 (AFP) - Cyprus opens back up for international tourism on Tuesday, with airports welcoming visitors after an almost three-month shutdown, and a bold plan to cover health care costs for visitors.    But with arrivals expected to be down by 70 percent this year due to the chaos brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a leap of faith for the small Mediterranean holiday island.   "Nobody here is expecting to make any money this year", Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios told AFP.    "We are setting the stage for the beginning of our recovery in 2021."

The divided island's tourism sector normally accounts for around 15 percent of GDP but has dried up in past months amid global measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.    Cyprus saw a record 3.97 million arrivals in 2019, with more than half its market made up of British and Russian visitors.   But even if the island's airports in Larnaca and Paphos will open up to arrivals on Tuesday with the first flight due to arrive from Athens around midday (0900GMT), neither Britain or Russia are among the 19 countries allowed to land there.

The list of permitted countries, which also include Bulgaria, Germany and Malta, have been chosen based on epidemiological data and split into two categories.    Initially all travellers will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test undertaken within 72 hours of travel, but from June 20, only those arriving from six countries in the second category, such as Poland and Romania, will need to do so.    The government says the lists will be revised weekly and more countries can be added.

Cyprus will also cover accommodation, dining and medical care for any tourists who fall ill with the COVID-19 illness during their stay, as well as accommodation and meals for their families and close contacts.    "What we offer and what we sell is not the sun and the sea, it's hospitality, and this is an extension of our hospitality," Perdios said.     The government has designated a 100-bed COVID-19 hospital for tourists that Perdios said would be located in the Larnaca region, while 112 ICU units have been allocated for visitors.     Perdios said several four-star hotels would provide 500 quarantine rooms for close contacts of those who fall ill.

- 'Right thing to do' -
A raft of other health measures, including disinfection protocols and temperature checks at border controls, aim to protect travellers and locals alike.    "We've gone to big lengths to think ahead of things that could go wrong and try to devise plan Bs and Cs", Perdios said.     The Republic of Cyprus, in the south of the island, has registered 960 novel coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.   Perdios expressed hope that British tourists could be welcomed "sometime after mid-July", with Russia "slightly later, maybe by a couple of weeks".

A recently announced deal with Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air to open a base in Cyprus from July was also an important step towards expanding and diversifying the island's tourist markets, he said.   While no date has been set to allow international tourists to visit the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, only recognised by Ankara, the health care commitment would still apply to those visiting the north during their stay once the crossings are reopened.   "I am very confident that not only will we be able to continue providing our citizens with protection, but also caring for everybody who comes to the island on holiday", he said.     "If we are coming out with a scheme like this, it's because we can afford it, but most importantly, because we feel that it's the right thing to do."
Date: Sat, 6 Jun 2020 00:50:56 +0200 (METDST)

Orlando, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Tourists donned masks Friday and visited the attractions at Universal Orlando, the first of the major theme parks in Florida to open since the COVID-19 pandemic shut them down almost three months ago.   Universal Orlando resort and the other theme parks in this central Florida city closed on March 15 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.    New back-to-fun rules at the park include temperature controls at the entrance, mandatory use of face masks, markers on the ground to help enforce social distancing and posters thanking the public for their help "during this unprecedented time."

Universal Orlando is only reopening at 35 percent capacity and has launched a system of virtual lines in which space can be reserved, to avoid queues and crowds.    Terrence Wilson, 19, was happy with the result. "There's not a lot of people. I can get on all the rides without having to wait 40 minutes or an hour" he told the Orlando Sentinel.

On Monday, the Legoland Florida park opened in the city of Winter Haven, while SeaWorld in Orlando is scheduled to open on June 10.    The largest of Orlando's parks, Walt Disney World, will open on July 11.    That day the park's Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom sections will begin operating, while EPCOT and Hollywood Studios will follow suit on July 15.    Orlando is home to most of the state's theme parks and every year welcomes millions of tourists from all over the world.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 20:36:47 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Friday announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, to counter a new spike in coronavirus cases.   "After reviewing the epidemiological situation and the high occupancy rates of intensive care departments, it was decided to take strict health precautions in the city of Jeddah for two weeks," starting from Saturday, the health ministry said.   The measures include a curfew running from 3 pm to 6 am, a suspension of prayers in mosques and a stay-at-home order for public and private sector workers in the Red Sea city whose airport serves Mecca pilgrims.

After an easing of precautions in the kingdom in late May, the ministry said that strict measures could also soon return to Riyadh, which was "witnessing a continuous increase during the last days" of critical cases of the pandemic.   Saudi Arabia has declared almost 96,000 coronavirus infections and 642 deaths from the Covid-19 respiratory disease, the heaviest toll in the Gulf.   It has suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam's holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 16:43:41 +0200 (METDST)
By Joe STENSON

Dublin, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland will dramatically accelerate its plan to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the coming days, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Friday.   "Today I can confirm that it is safe to move to phase two of the plan to reopen our country starting on Monday," Varadkar told a press conference.   "I'm also announcing an acceleration of the roadmap."   More workplaces will open and household visits will be permitted from Monday in line with the government plan to reopen the Republic announced in May.

However an escalation of the scheme will see citizens allowed to travel across their county of residence and/or up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) from home.   All shops will also be permitted to reopen whilst the final stage of the "roadmap" to end lockdown -- in place since 28 March -- will be brought forward from August to July.   Playgrounds will reopen while the government now intends to allow hotels, restaurants and bars serving food to resume trade on June 29.   "We are making progress, we are heading in the right direction, and we have earned the right to be hopeful about the future again," Varadkar said.   Ireland has suffered 1,664 deaths from the coronavirus, according to official figures.   Recorded deaths peaked at 77 in a single day in April, but by Thursday that figure had fallen to just five.

The Republic last Monday registered its first day without any COVID-19 deaths in more than two months, one week after entering the first phase of its plan to leave lockdown.   "We've proved we can suppress the virus, but now we do face another test," said health minister Simon Harris.   "We must prove we can live alongside it and keep it weak at the same time."

The easing includes provisions for shops to hold staggered opening hours and social distancing measures to remain in place.   "We must remain careful, cautious vigilant, and together," Harris added.   Finance minister Paschal Donohoe announced Friday that a government wage subsidy scheme enacted when the nation entered lockdown will be extended until the end of August.   To date, 1.37 billion ($1.55 billion) euros has been paid to half a million employees.   But he warned "this support cannot last forever" and he expected to see a continued decline in reliance on the scheme.
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 08:22:40 +0200 (METDST)
By Paola LÓPEZ

Quito, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - As much of Ecuador went into lockdown against the coronavirus, scientists shipped out of the Galapagos, leaving important research activity frozen and the Pacific archipelago's tourism in deep crisis.   Authorities are desperately hoping for a revival of the vital tourism industry -- the main engine of the local economy -- once visitors are allowed to fly in again from July 1.

In the meantime, local officials say they have to take a leaf out of English naturalist Charles Darwin's book and "adapt to survive."   Darwin based his theory of evolution on his studies of the islands' unique flora and fauna. But dozens of researchers following in his footsteps had to leave before air links were shut down as the pandemic advanced.   "Science has to a large extent been paralyzed these days in the Galapagos," Diego Quiroga of Quito's San Francisco University told AFP.

Sixteen researchers of various nationalities from the university's Galapagos Science Center were repatriated along with 50 US students when Ecuador shut its borders, suspended flights and imposed strict restrictions on movement in mid-March.   The move meant that the Galapagos was largely spared the devastating impact of the virus felt on the mainland.   Ecuador, a country of 17 million, has more than 40,000 infections with 3,500 deaths.   The Galapagos is the least affected of its provinces, with fewer than 80 infections among its 30,000 population.

- Research suspended -
The 76 projects being carried out under the Center's auspices remain in limbo, and an international congress set to draw 200 scientists to the archipelago was canceled.   The Charles Darwin Foundation, which has been operating on the islands for 60 years, had to shelve 20 research programs.

Around 30 of its scientists and volunteers who were carrying out field work "had to abandon their investigation sites," said Maria Jose Barragan, the foundation's CEO and science director.   With them went "an important season of investigation into the reproductive cycle of birds" in the Galapagos, she said.   The Galapagos National Park (PNG), a public body responsible for conservation of the archipelago, continues to operate.

- Adapting to less -
The Charles Darwin Foundation fears, however, the long-term impact of the pandemic on future research.   "I think the global picture for the conservation sector, regarding acquisition and availability of funds, will change becaus there will likely
be other interests" competing for funds, said Barragan.   "We have to adapt, which is actually the principle of the theory of evolution: change and adapt," she said.

Galapagos Science Center head Carlos Mena says he does not believe "funding for science is decreasing, but yes, it will move to other sectors, such as economic rejuvenation or the study of diseases and viruses."   As things stand, any freeze in research projects affects livelihoods on the archipelago.   Mena says this will translate into almost a million dollars in lost revenue for 2020. "Science brings in revenue. It's not huge, not like tourism, but yes, it generates revenue."

In the months of lockdown, between March and May, the Galapagos -- which had more than 270,000 visitors last year -- lost $200 million in tourism revenue, according to the Provincial Chamber of Tourism.   "The revenue is zero. There have been no tourists, therefore no admissions to the park, nor the economic revenue" they generate, said park director Andres Ordonez.

Mena believes tourism will come back stronger after the coronavirus, saying the work of researchers can "serve as a guide for better tourism" in the islands with their fragile ecosystems.   "The Galapagos have always been considered as a laboratory for studying the evolution of species," he said. "We can also see them as a laboratory for building tourism or a better model of society than before the pandemic."
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2020 03:12:32 +0200 (METDST)

Rio de Janeiro, June 5, 2020 (AFP) - Brazil's death toll from the novel coronavirus has surged to become the third-highest in the world, surpassing Italy's, according to official figures released Thursday.   The South American country of 210 million people reported a new record of 1,473 deaths in 24 hours, bringing its overall toll to 34,021, from 614,941 infections, the health ministry said.   Italy has confirmed 33,689 deaths from 234,013 infections.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 22:34:29 +0200 (METDST)

Johannesburg, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - South Africa said Thursday it had recorded 3,267 novel coronavirus cases in 24 hours, the biggest jump since the pandemic hit the country.   Africa's biggest industrial power now has a total of 40,792 infections, the health ministry said. It saw a rise of 56 deaths for a total of 848 fatalities.   More than half of the cases are in the Western Cape region where health services are under pressure.

South Africa is the sub-Saharan African country hardest hit by the pandemic.   President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 27 ordered South Africans to observe a lockdown aimed at slowing the disease's spread.   The move sharply limited people's freedom of movement while slowing an economy already in recession.   But Ramaphosa has gradually eased the lockdown measures and allowed most of the economy to restart.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 18:41:36 +0200 (METDST)

London, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - Masks will be compulsory on public transport in England from next week to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, transport minister Grant Shapps said Thursday.   "As of 15th June, face coverings will be mandatory on public transport," he said at a daily briefing on the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.   The government had previously advised people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport but stopped short of making them compulsory.   They remain only a recommendation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose devolved administrations have responsibility for transport.

The announcement was made as part of plans to ease lockdown restrictions in England, as infection rates and the number of deaths from COVID-19 falls.   A total of 39,904 people have died in the outbreak in Britain, according to the latest official figures, which is the second-highest toll in the world after the United States.   "We need to ensure every precaution is taken on buses, trains, aircraft and on ferries," said Shapps, calling the use of face coverings a "condition of travel".   Small children, the disabled and anyone with breathing difficulties would be exempt, he added.   "We expect the vast majority won't need to be forced into this," he said, but warned that anyone refusing to do so could be prevented from travelling or even fined.
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 14:00:58 +0200 (METDST)

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, June 4, 2020 (AFP) - Rohingya refugees infected with coronavirus are fleeing quarantine in their Bangladesh camps because they fear being transferred to an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal, community leaders said Thursday.   At least two infected refugees have gone missing since testing positive for the virus after the first COVID-19 death was reported Tuesday, they said.

About one million Rohingya -- most of whom fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 -- are packed into camps along the Bangladesh border, and the coronavirus has become the latest cause of misery.   Aid agencies have long warned that the virus could cause chaos in the overcrowded camps, where social distancing is virtually impossible.   So far only 29 infections have been detected, although 16,000 Rohingya are in quarantine zones within the camps.

It was not immediately clear how many tests have been conducted in the camps, but a senior health official said two people who proved positive had "fled the isolation hospital".   He added that only 20 refugees agreed to be tested in the past two days because they believe those infected will be sent to Bhashan Char island in the Bay of Bengal.   "It has created mass panic," Nurul Islam, a community leader, told AFP.

Bangladesh authorities have long wanted to establish a camp for 100,000 people on the isolated island, and have already sent 306 Rohingya there.   "The Rohingya are petrified," the health official told AFP on condition of anonymity.   "We have told them they won't be sent anywhere."

Some 500 isolation beds have been prepared in the camps, but most are empty because so few confirmed cases have been found, according to the official.   The first Rohingya fatality from the coronavirus was announced only Tuesday, and health officials say they desperately need to increase testing to see how widespread the virus may be.   But Khalilur Rahman Khan, the government administrator of one camp block, said doctors told him refugees were reluctant to participate.

Several Rohingya leaders said the transfer of the 306 refugees to Bhashan Char had sparked rumours that anyone with coronavirus would be sent to join them.   "People are scared to go for virus tests," said Abu Zaman, a community leader.   Mohammad Shafi, a camp neighbour of the refugee whose death was announced Tuesday, said people who had coronavirus symptoms such as fever and aches insisted they only had seasonal flu.   "I tried to reassure them that this a curable disease and most people will recover, but many don't believe it," he said.
Date: Wed, 3 Jun 2020 22:25:42 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, June 3, 2020 (AFP) - Chile's government said Wednesday it was prolonging a three-week shutdown of the country's capital Santiago as the COVID-19 death toll reached a new daily record.   Health officials said 87 people had died in the previous 24 hours, and nearly 5,000 new infections were recorded.   The South American copper-exporting nation has now registered more than 113,000 infections and 1,275 deaths.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich confirmed the government was extending a three-week lockdown of the capital for another week.   The city is home to seven million of the country's 18 million population and produces half its GDP.    Manalich said the population's mobility had only been reduced by 30 percent, because of a large numbers of permits granted to those needed for essential activities.   "There are many permits," the minister said, warning that "for the quarantine to be effective, mobility needs to be reduced by at least 50 percent."

The minister appealed to people to minimize time spent outside of their homes to help reduce infections, especially in the coming weeks when emergency health services are expected to be operating at maximum capacity.   Already in Santiago, 97 percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied, while units in the rest of Chile report having reached 88 percent capacity.